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The $1.99 Investment That Will Greatly Improve Your Mountain Biking!

The $1.99 Investment That Will Greatly Improve Your Mountain Biking!

By: BetterRide Coach Andy Winohradsky

Most of us spend thousands of dollars on our bikes, equipment, fitness, nutrition, you name it, in order to have fun riding bikes and becoming better at it.  Let’s face it, whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior or you just want to start living a bit more healthy lifestyle and figure MTB’ing would be a good way to help do it, being able to improve your skill on the bike makes the whole deal a lot more enjoyable. Whether you’re trying to get faster or simply trying to not-crash as much.

Arguably, all of the above-mentioned stuff does help us to have a good time on our mountain bikes as well as aid our ability to ride.  (Hey, I like nice bikes and gear and good food just as much as the next guy!)  But there are a lot of things out there that very few riders do that will drastically elevate their riding levels.  Some are big undertakings, some are tiny and simple.  I believe that one thing riders need to do if they’re serious about learning is to take some formal instruction, obviously.  Another thing?  Start using the following piece of equipment: its super inexpensive; extremely accessible; user friendly; portable; durable; and not only important, but I’m going to say MANDATORY, if you want to really improve your riding…

Ready?!?!  (drum roll)…

Start keeping a Riding Log.

A riding log, riding journal, whatever you want to call it…  For $1.99 at your local Walgreen’s, you can pick up one of the greatest pieces of mountain bike gear/equipment known to man.

What?!?!  Read on…

In pretty much every endeavor in life that people are half-way serious about, they keep a written record of what’s going on: business; fitness training; expenses; heck, many of us keep “diaries” of our extremely interesting and dramatic personal lives.

If you’re reading this, you’re fairly serious about improving your MTB skills, so why wouldn’t use this incredibly useful tool in this important area of your life?  And, yes, it is important.  Physical and mental health are paramount to life-happiness. (and a MTB is way cheaper then therapy…)

And, who can benefit from this?  EVERYBODY!  Whether you are brand new to riding or a pro racer, you need to do this if really want to improve on the bike.

So how do we go about doing this riding log thing and WHY?

Let’s talk about the “WHY”, first.  When I work with people on fitness training, the first thing that I have them do is to start keeping a food journal (you’re not serious about fitness unless you’re also adequately addressing nutrition).  Everything that passes their lips, for at least three days, has to be written down.  Am I interested in their diet and eating habits? Of course I am.  But, invariably, what happens is that people will alter their eating habits when they have to write everything down, and they admit this.  How many calories did you take in while doing laps of the free samples at Whole Foods after your ride?  Oh, never used to count those, huh?  Or, when you cooked dinner, and you “tested” every dish…repeatedly…  And, those seven pieces of your kid’s Halloween candy you snatched throughout the day?  A handful of chips…or three?  A post-ride beer…or three?

In this case, educating clients on nutrition is important, but more importantly and what I find extremely useful with the food journal is that clients become AWARE of what they are actually doing.  Around 800 -1000 extra (and “empty”) calories a day can happen real quick if you’re just unconsciously shoving crap in your face all day long.  The same holds true for riding bikes: by having to sit down and think about what happened on your ride; by having to PROCESS things and write (or type) them down, you become far more engaged in what actually happened out there on the trail.  You become consciously AWARE of your riding.

Most of us aren’t very aware of our riding, it happens on the trail and then it’s gone!  Out there on the trail, during our ride, we win some, we lose some, we scare ourselves a bit…and then we’re in the car, driving home, on the phone asking about what we need to pick up for dinner or speeding through traffic to try to squeeze in a shower and rush off to meet with a client or grabbing the kids from practice or whatever…

Then, on our next ride we go out and make the same exact mistakes again!  I’ve hit the same exact bad line, then hit the same exact rock and crashed in the same exact place on a few occasions – lots of this comes from learning the hard way… And, maybe worse, any “victories” that we may have had on the previous ride—opportunities to learn and improve—were lost because we never took the time to commit these things to memory; to process the techniques that worked; to understand WHY we succeeded.

Keeping a riding log will SLOW YOU DOWN and force you to become much more AWARE and CONSCIOUS of you’re riding – this is how you will learn most effectively.

What if you really don’t know squat about riding technique?  (Well, take a camp!) But, what if you’re brand new to the whole thing? You don’t understand terms, techniques…Nada!  In that case, your riding log will probably start to accumulate a lot of questions, but these questions will become more and more specific.  You’ll understand that certain types of trail conditions give you more problems then others, you’ll notice certain things you feel pretty comfortable on.  You’ll start to be able to create similarities with other sports and other activities in life.  Often, new students will describe certain things that give them problems, certain types of crashes they’ve had as well as areas where they feel confident, and without ever seeing them ride, or seeing the specific trail feature that they’re talking about, I have a pretty good idea where their issues lie and how to remedy them.  Sometimes students say, “I don’t know, I suck everywhere…”  Well, don’t worry, I can help you, too.  The previous student is a lot further along with their awareness of their riding then the latter, and thus, a lot nearer to improvement.  Become the previous student.

In my camps, I stress the riding log HUGE with my students.  If you’ve just received instruction, you now have a whole new bag of tricks!  These are tools that you are not entirely familiar with yet, so the opportunities for learning in the riding immediately following (and not so immediate) the instruction will be immense!  Process it!  Write it down!

What if you’ve been at the game forever?  Say you’ve been riding for 35+ years, racing professionally for 15 of those (kinda semi-retired), you’ve worked as a factory race team mechanic, years of bike shop experience, built trails for a living, shot photos and written articles for magazines and have been a professional MTB instructor and coach for the past 5 years?  What could a person like that (me) possibly learn by keeping a riding log?  Hasn’t the ship already sailed?  Haven’t I probably done it all and seen it all? There isn’t much else that I’m going to learn at this point?  Isn’t it time for me to let the riding regress and take up golf?  Haven’t I hit my head enough times that it doesn’t really retain much anymore, anyway?   The answer:

Not even close.  I learn something or at least confirm something new EVERY TIME I RIDE!  I’ve recently started keeping riding logs again and it has helped my riding tremendously!  Even at this point in my riding life!  During my serious racing years, I had volumes upon volumes of riding/racing records and logs.  Admittedly, for a bunch of years I slacked on the riding logs  (the semi-retired racer guy decided he didn’t need them anymore).  I could go into detail about my last month of riding and the awesome stuff that I’ve come up with, but I’ll just say that I pick up on something new every time I’m out. By breaking it down, I come up with the real reasons why something either worked or didn’t, as opposed to saying, “Ah, I’m just a little rusty…” or “…haven’t ridden there in a long time…” and on the other side, crediting successes to, “…just felt good today…” or “…traction was perfect, could do no wrong…”

Keeping logs again has helped my MTB, my motocross, my dirt jumping, my coaching and instructing.  It’s helped me make advances in the types of off the bike training that are really relevant to riding. My bike riding logs will probably even help my snowboarding…if it ever snows!

So what the heck should you write down in your log, specifically?  Well, that’s up to you.  An entry doesn’t have to be super detailed or ten pages long.  Don’t make it such a stressful hassle that you give it up because you dread it so much that it ruins your day.  Definitely write down your “victories”, the positive learning experiences.  When you have success on the trail, break it down: why were you successful, what techniques did you use (providing that they were proper techniques)?  If that’s all you enter, good enough!  Just by processing that event and recording it, you’ll “re-live” it a bunch of times.  Repetition is a huge part of learning.   Now, you are also conscious of why you had success.  BAM!  You just quite thoroughly learned something!  Focus on the positive.

As far as dealing with negative experiences (crashes, riding like crap) turn them into steps that you can take to move into a positive direction.  Know why that crash happened: what did you do wrong?  What should you have done?  You may come up with more questions then answers if you are new to riding (or even not-so-new), but at least you are being proactive, and the answers to the questions are out there.

In my racing days, my logs were incredibly detailed: nutrition, training, how I practiced at races, how I traveled, equipment settings…  Lately, not so much; mainly focusing on one prominent issue per ride.  Sometimes super crazy detailed bike-dork stuff like suspension settings in relation to body position, line choice and riding style.  Sometimes simply noting that I felt tight and didn’t warm up and “feel it” until an hour into the ride.  This reminded me that I hadn’t been stretching and hitting the foam roller enough… and now I am!  But if I wouldn’t have sat down to write and “taken note” on how old I felt at the start of my rides… I would have mentally been on to something else as soon as I got off the bike instead of making it a point to take care of myself.  Awareness…

So, like anything else, start simple, start slow, but make this a habit!  I guarantee it will pay off, big-time!

 

The Dark Side of Yoga for Mountain Bikers (and How to Avoid it)

Article by Gene Hamilton

I have written plenty of times about the many benefits of my on-again, off-again yoga practice but failed to mention the dark side (and why my practice has been sporadic over the last 14 years). I have stressed going to a yoga studio with dedicated yoga teachers, not doing what I call “gym yoga” with 30 students and one teacher with limited experience, but even well meaning, dedicated teachers are human and make mistakes.

My first yoga experience was in 1998 in Boulder, Colorado. My friend Rusty was getting into yoga and he convinced me to go to a class at the YMCA. He used the, “not only is great for you, there are a lot of pretty girls there” approach that tends to work on single men. Well, there were a lot of pretty girls there and an instructor who sat way at the end of the room and basically did his own yoga practice while explaining to us what to do (not what I would call a good instructor). He never walked around the room watching and correcting our form, which is fundamental to yoga. Men, especially when there are four or five of them in a room with 25 women, are rather competitive so I wanted to do everything the teacher and my friend Rusty were doing. Unfortunately, I was cheating, rounding my lower back when I should of been hinging at the hips and various other ways to allow my unflexable body to bend like the instructor’s (in my eyes). Since the instructor did not walk around the room and observe us I never knew I was doing poses incorrectly. One day I found out just how incorrectly I was doing things when I heard an audible pop in my lower back and felt a sudden pain there. Long story short,  I stopped doing yoga that day and spent two weeks getting massage therapy and visiting the chiropractor to fix my back.

Two years later when I lived in Fruita, Colorado I discovered a wonderful yoga studio ran by a woman in her late sixties. She had studied under B. K. S. Iyengar, founder of Iyenger Yoga and was, as described by a  friend of mine “old school” in how strict she was (my nickname for her was the Yoga Nazi, after the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld). After three weeks of doing four to five yoga classes a week I was really feeling good and was starting to really enjoy yoga. Then one day in class we were focusing on twists to open up our hips and backs and she came up behind me and in her Austrian accent said, “Why are you so stiff Gene, you are too young to be so stiff!” and then she powerfully twisted me further and again, snap, a muscle let go in my back. Another round of chiropractor and massage therapist visits. This time I tentatively returned to yoga just didn’t take classes that she taught, but often still felt more back pain after yoga than before, I honestly thought this was part of the process, no pain, no gain.

I repeated this on-again, off-again practice for the next 11 years or so until last winter when I started doing yoga regularly. This time, with a little investigation I found more enlightened yoga instructors. They would say things like, “find the softness in the pose”, “relax and breathe, don’t strain” and perhaps the best thing to tell students, “it is your practice, go only to the edge of discomfort where you can still breathe”. This was amazing, as I found that if I stayed at the edge of discomfort and used my breathe  I could slowly open up my body much deeper than when I tried to force it! I was also fortunate enough to get a few private lessons with BetterRides’ Communications Director who had just gotten back from yoga teacher training in Thailand. She explained some really basic concepts of how to stand correctly and hold poses correctly as well as the goal of many common poses (why we are doing this pose, and how it will look and feel when I am able to do it really well). Then one day I showed up to yoga class and I was the only student! Rather than cancel the class the instructor gave me a private lesson and really focused on how I could and could not move. She was the first instructor to tell me to only go so far in certain forward folds and to bend my knees in forward folds (that are designed to be done with straight legs) where I was curving my lower back instead of hinging. She also told me to sit on a folded blanket to tilt my hips forward when doing seated forward folds (just like tilting my saddle forward so I can hinge at the hips better on my bike!). When I went to Bali this summer many of the instructors reinforced these same techniques. Being able to bend my knees a little and focusing on bringing my chest to my thighs made yoga completely pain free for me! This allowed me to really open up my body!

Unfortunately, my favorite yoga instructor, here in Tempe moved away so I have been searching for some new instructors. My search brought me to a Yin Yoga class after a short, but great ride on South Mountain. As a matter of fact it was last Wednesday, the day after I published my “Mountain Biking and Back Pain: How to Prevent it and Cure it” article. Also, a few days after I aware of my breath throughout an entire yoga class (a huge breakthrough for me). Halfway through a great class while blissfully meditating in a seated forward fold the instructor starts pushing on my lower back to deepen my stretch. My first thought was to yell “STOP!”, but I didn’t want to interrupt the others in the class and thought that maybe with all the classes I had taken recently my back was actually hinged (instead of bent) and he was helping me hinge further. Nope, after the class my lower back was starting to hurt and by the time I rode my bike home it was really hurting!

Well, I knew this was a muscle pull, not tight myofasica, but I figured some light foam rolling would help so I spent 20-30 minutes working on getting my lower back to relax. Then I had to continue boxing up my bike for my flight to Austin the next day. As you can imagine sitting on a plane for two hours and hauling my bike box around airports, into rental cars and into my hotel wasn’t the best therapy for a pulled muscle, but there were eight eager students excited to be coached the next day. After Friday’s coaching my back didn’t feel any worse, still hurt a little from the pulled muscle but not too bad. I rolled on my tennis balls for a half hour and it felt a little better. Repeated the same routine on Saturday and felt great on Sunday morning. The Students were stoked, it looked like the rain was going to hold off and I was looking forward to coaching. Then I bent down to tie my shoe and wham! That pulled muscle lit up and still hurts like heck today, two days, one massage and one chiropractor visit later.

How can you benefit from this cautionary tale? Take your time to find good, supportive yoga instructors and if you don’t want harsh physical adjustments tell the instructor before the class (the best ones will usually ask first but many, like mine the other day don’t ask). I still love yoga and will continue to do it but I won’t think twice about telling an instructor to get his hands off me, even it disrupts the whole class. I know he meant well but he should of asked and regardless I should of told him to stop. My failure to yell stop is going to cost me a week or two of lost work and a week or two of not enjoying my life and losing what little fitness I regained this fall. Oh, and hundreds of dollars in chiropractor and massage therapy bills. Please learn from my mistake!

Students Get BetterRide MTB Skills Coaching Tattoos!

Two BetterRide mountain bike skills students got BR tattoos less than a week after their three day skills progression (camp)!

Jan and Eric, a couple from Santa Cruz, CA got similar but different BetterRide MTB tattoos a week after their camp with us!

Jan’s tattoo:

 

Jan's sweet Tattoo!

What Jan had to say: “This camp was real emotional for me.  I gathered so much information from the Betterride 3-day camp.  The vision tool of looking ahead to the body position of being centered over the bottom bracket to the importance of drills were stressed over and over among other helpful hints.  I went to two and one half other skill camps that were 8 hr day camps for beginners thru experts, but they just didn’t do it for ME.  All I took away from those courses were broken bones.  Those camps showed me a few drills the first half of the day and then the second half of the day was spent riding the trail.   During the Betterride camp, sometimes I was on the crest of shedding tears of fear that were brought on from my experience at prior camps, but by the end of the 3-days, I was shedding tears of joy.  I was overwhelmed with a great experience with a new way of teaching and learning.  What a better way to share this with others than with a Betterride Tattoo!
Jan

(Mind you Gene,  I do not have any negative -ness with those camps that I went to before yours.  I believe in the coaches that work with these camps.  I know they love coaching or else they wouldn’t be doing it. The thing about coaching and students is it has to “click”.  There were students in those classes who had way less experience than I, and came out better than I did in those clinics.  I did want to mention that at class but I didn’t want to talk too much.)

Eric’s Tattoo:

 

Eric's Tattoo!

I won’t bore you with more praise for BetterRide from Eric, I will let his tattoo do the talking!

BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton said he was flattered and still in a state of disbelief. “We have had a lot of students blog about their experience in our camps, mention us in mountain bike magazines and write thank you notes, but this is over the top!” exclaimed Hamilton.

I Purposely Crashed My Mountain Bike Today!

I Purposely Crashed My Mountain Bike Today! (How to Set Yourself Up to Ride Your Best)  MTB Training Article by Gene Hamilton

Seriously, I made myself crash! I didn’t want to crash but if you watched the lead up to my crash I did everything possible to set myself up for disaster.

I often tell my students that most mountain bike crashes happen within five minutes of throwing your leg over your bike. I explain that often, when we don’t warm up for at least ten minutes (twenty to thirty minutes is best) we aren’t fully focused and ready to ride. Today I disobeyed my warm up rule and paid for it. I woke early (5:45 am), fixed a rear flat and headed to South Mountain. When I arrived I had just enough time to get my riding gear on and we were off.  I even said, “I don’t know how you guys do this, I like to warm up before I ride.” Colin then said maybe we should do a long run (a series of trails that have a a few climbs and flat sections providing a decent warm up) and I decided against it! Off we went down Geronimo, I felt pretty good on the first section, missed a few lines but considering the lack of warm up felt alright. After waiting for the crew to regroup I took off down the trail and had a conscious thought (should I take my normal line or try this other line), took a different line than normal and the next thing I knew I was on the ground in a lot of pain.

Conscious thoughts have no place in mountain biking, you need to just do, not make decisions! I wasn’t in mountain bike mode, I was still trying to wake up, thinking about the election results and the traffic I fought to get to the trail. This was not the focus I needed to ride scary trails at my best!

I landed about seven feet below the trail and was fortunate to land on one of the only spots with sand mixed with rocks, as the next 100 meters is all big rocks on the side of the trail. I Feel really fortunate that I wasn’t hurt worse. Ended up with a sore left shoulder, deep thigh bruise on my left thigh, cut left ankle, headache, big scratch in my fork stanchion, broken left grip and feeling rather nauseous.

The moral of this story is warm up before you mountain bike! Your body and your brain both need to be warmed up and in bike mode (not loving father mode, stressed out business woman mode, mad about bad drivers mode or still thinking about what your boss said mode!) before you end down a trail! My usual warmup consists of 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching then a minimum of 15 minutes of riding (often doing body position and cornering drills plus a few sprints). I ALWAYS ride better when I do this! Glad re-learning this lesson for the 6th or 7th time did not involve a trip to the hospital!